October marks Italian Heritage Month in New York State, home to the largest population of Italian Americans in the country.
Festivities in Buffalo kicked off Tuesday with a ceremony at City Hall, where speakers including Mayor Byron Brown were flanked by Hutch Tech High School Italian club members holding up the 20 regional flags of Italy.
“We are very proud to celebrate the rich Italian heritage that we have in the City of Buffalo that has helped to mold, shape and strengthen our city through the years,” Brown said.
Italians started settling in Buffalo during the second half of the nineteenth century, with many arriving in the last two decades of the 1800s. Peter LoJacono, president of the Federation of Italian-American Societies of Western New York, said the newcomers faced prejudice and worked hard to establish communities of their own.
“They settled in Little Italies around the area. The largest one was in the lower West Side, and particularly the area called ‘The Hooks’ and Dante Place, around the Marine Drive Apartments area.”
Other Little Italies formed in Lovejoy, on Swan Street and in South Buffalo.
“I think they’ve all in their own ways made great contributions to our society in our fields in our Buffalo, and our Buffalo is made better by the contributions of all groups—in particular by Italians. I feel that way because I am one,” LoJacono said with a smile.
LoJacono is also the Italian teacher at Hutch Tech, and he led a diverse group of his students in a traditional Italian dance at the end of the ceremony. One of his exemplary scholars who happens to wear the hijab also recited the Pledge of Allegiance in Italian.
“It’s a great honor for me to be able to be an Italian teacher, so I can then share all of the wonderful culture that Italy has to offer with all of my students who come from all of the countries of the world,” LoJacono said. “We learn a lot about each other. So, I get to teach them Italian and then they teach me a lot about where they’re from. It’s a beautiful experience every day in my room.”
Italian American Common Councilmembers Joel Feroleto and Richard Fontana also spoke during Tuesday’s ceremony.
“Now, people ask, ‘Why do you work so hard?’” Fontana said. “I tell them, ‘Cause I’m Italian. We work hard. We don’t watch the clock. We see what needs to get done. That was a lesson I learned early in the restaurant business. My dad would say, ‘Don’t watch the clock, just work.’”
Feroleto read a proclamation from Governor Andrew Cuomo honoring the contributions of Italian Americans to New York State and the U.S.
The Federation of Italian-American Societies of Western New York is hosting a variety of celebratory events over the coming month, including an Italian Heritage Parade starting at Hertel and Virgil avenues at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12.